Tom Parlon: big tipper

Former Progressive Democrat junior minister Tom Parlon left a tip of more than $2,600 (€1,751) to drivers who chauffeured him around Atlanta during a St Patrick's Day trip three years ago. He subsequently claimed the tip back through his expenses.

Limousine hire for the week-long US trip amounted to €13,400, with Parlon and his wife Martha running up a €4,200 bill at a hotel where their room cost $800 a night.

Parlon, who now heads up the Construction Industry Federation, also incurred limousine costs of €5,000 during a trip to Chicago in 2005 and more than €6,000 in South Africa in 2007.

According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Martha Parlon claimed €528 in travel subsistence expenses when the Parlons and two of his closest aides visited St Louis and Atlanta in March 2006.

This included a total bill of more than €4,200 for the Parlons to stay at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead hotel in Atlanta, where the pair enjoyed a room costing around $800 a night.

Before and after the trip, the group of four also enjoyed VIP facilities at Dublin airport at a cost of €300.

Limousine rental for the Atlanta trip included use of a black sedan from Adams Coach and Limousine Service, Georgia, for up to 17 hours a day at $72 an hour.

By the time the trip had ended, the travelling party had run up a limousine hire bill of €13,400, including a 20% "gratuity" of $2,653 for the drivers which was met by the state.

This brought the overall cost of hotels and limo hire for the trip to well over €21,000 for the group.

Parlon was accompanied by his wife on each of the five official St Patrick's Day trips which he made during his five years as minister of state at the Office of Public Works, the documents reveal.

During this time, the couple ? usually accompanied by Parlon's private secretary and personal assistant ? visited countries such as the United States, South Korea and South Africa.

Overall, Parlon's expense bill for his period in office from 2002 to 2007 topped €316,000, according to the documents.

The state also paid out more than €27,000 to cover flights for Parlon, his wife, his personal assistant and private secretary from Dublin to Seoul via Paris, Singapore and London when he represented the state for St Patrick's Day in 2003.

Parlon claimed a further €1,222 in various allowances for this trip.

Two years later, the Parlons travelled to Chicago for the St Patrick's Day festivities, running up a bill of over €5,800 in business class flights alone.

Parlon claimed a total of €1,197 in subsistence expenses during this seven-day trip in 2005, while his wife Martha claimed a further €617.

The travelling party also ran up a limousine bill of €5,200 paid to the Metropolitan Limousine company in Chicago. The hotel bill for the group, who stayed in $149 a night rooms at the Fitzpatrick hotel Chicago, came to a further €2,413, with return flights costing over €14,000.

The following year, flights from Dublin to South Africa via London in March 2007 cost a total of €22,306.

Once there, the party ran up a hotel and limousine hire bill of more than €10,000.

This included two separate payments of €2,880 and €3,129 to Imperial chauffeur drive, Pretoria, for the use of a Mercedes E class, a seven-seater Mercedes Vito and a Mercedes Luggage van.

Parlon told the Sunday Tribune the limousine expenses in Atlanta were "crazy" but that he was not aware of the gratuity payment at the time.

He would not have been involved in booking or arranging trips, all of which were within government guidelines, and had often stayed in relatively low cost hotel rooms, the former junior minister said.

The use of business class flights was "the norm" and "de rigeur" at the time, he added.

But he said he believed his overall expense bill of €316,000 during his time in office represented value for money and that the official St Patrick's day trips had "very busy" itineraries involving "continuing meetings."

"My wife has a family and runs my farm in my absence. At the same time she has given her own free time to accompany me on these trips," he said.